About This Blog

A place to find my reviews not featured on epinions.com or horror-asylum.com, as well as opinions and lists on everything from movies to TV to music. It's all about me! Send hate mail to vegie18th@hotmail.com or just leave a comment beneath the posts. Review grading system assumes C+ is somewhere in the vicinity of a Passing grade or minor fail.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Review: Kenner


Jim Brown plays a taciturn African-American sailor in India trying to track down his friend’s killer. What he does find is a young boy (the very Indian-looking and sounding Ricky Cordell) whose father is apparently an American seaman who has never come back. Anyway, Brown eventually tracks down his friend’s killer, a drug smuggler played by Charles Horvath, but he is injured when attempting to make his move. The boy and his rather sad dancer/escort mother (Madlyn Rhue) take him in, nurse him back to health, and attempt to impart some karma-laced non-violence wisdom on the vengeful man. Yeah, that’ll work on Big Jim Brown, right? He does rather take to the boy, though, after earlier treating him somewhat coldly for interfering in his mission. Robert Coote plays Horvath’s wily British cohort.

 

Jim Brown is best known as a former gridiron star and blaxploitation icon, but unlike the Fred Williamson’s and Pam Grier’s of the blaxploitation movement, Brown’s movie career started pre-blaxploitation in “The Dirty Dozen” and a bunch of other films whilst he tried to find his niche. This 1969 film from director Steve Sekely (best-known for “Day of the Triffids”) was probably meant to soften Brown’s tough guy image and expand his range, but the mixture of revenge story (it almost sounds like a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie if you remove the Indian elements), kiddie pic, and multicultural romance is corny as hell and poorly dated. Brown is fine, especially when he lightens the hell up, but he was never going to be Sidney Poitier, and it’s easy to see why action movies and tough guy characters were more his thing. The sappier elements of the film don’t really play to his strengths (if you’ll pardon the pun) as an actor and he doesn’t seem to be enjoying the change terribly much. No one wants to see Jim Fuckin’ Brown getting all sensitive, karmic and multicultural do they?

 

Robert Coote has a few dastardly moments as a gentlemanly villain, but the rest is the shits. Madlyn Rhue is terribly unconvincing as an Indian woman (though she’s not the only one who looks like a ‘ringer’ to me), Ricky Cordell is both incompetent and irritating as her cutesy son (it’s a truly awful performance), and Charles Horvath is a poor man’s Jack Palance as the underused villain of the piece. And wait ‘til you get a load of his orange robe wearing henchmen. What the hell was up with those guys? All the cultural and spiritual nonsense about karma and such was probably a bit too simplistic even for the time and is now insufferably twee and silly (The boy’s uncle is reincarnated as a cricket? Really?).

 

Also known under the (absurd) title “Year of the Cricket”, the film isn’t convincing and never really engages. Filmed in Bombay, it looks pretty cheaply made despite nice scenery, and has some pretty poor dubbing at times. Based on a story by Mary P. Murray, the screenplay for this rather second-rate feature is by Robert L. Richards (“Act of Violence” with Van Heflin, and the popular “Winchester ‘73”) and Harold Clemins. It’s not hard to see why this one has largely been forgotten, even by B-movie standards.

 

Rating: C-

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance


Nic Cage is back as hog-riding, devil-dealing Johnny Blaze, and for some reason this film finds him in Eastern Europe (Turkey and Romania, apparently), and attempting to keep his demonic alter-ego in check (See what I did there?). A French-accented monk named Moreau (Idris Elba) offers Blaze a job in exchange for freeing Johnny from his curse. He needs to locate and protect a young boy (Fergus Riordan), who just so happens to be the Son of the Devil. Well, the son of the Devil’s human vessel, Roarke (Ciaran Hinds) anyway. It’s the boy’s 13th birthday soon and Johnny needs to get to the kid before Roarke, who has evil plans for the boy upon his birthday (Apparently at this stage, he’s just a naughty boy). Johnny Whitworth plays Roarke’s albino chief henchman, Violante Placido is the boy’s earthly mother, whilst Anthony Head and a facially tattooed Christopher Lambert play monks.

 

If you’re the kind of person who relies on reviews to tell you whether something is worth seeing or not, you’ve probably worked out by now that I’m not your critic. I’m weird, and my taste is unlike anyone else’s. For instance, I though the first “Ghost Rider” film was perfectly watchable and better than it had any right to be. I’m also a fan of the “Crank” films and I’m apparently the only person on the planet who enjoyed the flop “Jonah Hex”. So when I tell you that this 2012 sequel from the experimental action duo of Neveldine/Taylor (The “Crank” films, writers of “Jonah Hex”) isn’t too bad for a sequel to a film that was perfectly watchable and better than it had any right to be, just bear in mind my unique perspective. Every other review has been savage and you’ll probably hate it. I think that’s your loss, though, because as much as I’m far from a Nic Cage fan, and as much as the first film is superior, there’s still some fun stuff going on here, even if it does sorely miss Sam Elliott. I find it very, very hard not to like any film that features a motorcycle-riding hero with a flaming skull for a head, even if he is played by the most unsubtle actor to have ever won an Oscar. Yeah, I think I lost my credibility somewhere around the time of not hating “Jonah Hex”.

 

I’ve gotta give the dynamic duo of Neveldine/Taylor credit for technological ingenuity and courage. These guys will try to do just about anything with a camera if they think it will look cool. They even shoot scenes whilst on rollerblades. In the “Crank” films, they pretty much did try everything, including bizarre “Godzilla”-like fights, and a human ‘jump start’, and their over-the-top, ‘what will they think of next?’ approach was a lot more entertaining that it probably should have been. In the case of “Gamer”, their shaky-cam approach failed miserably in a film that didn’t need such an approach. But at least they tried. This time out, they once again use handheld camerawork thanks to cinematographer Brandon Trost (whose work on Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II” made it the worst-looking horror film in a long time), but this time out it suits the material better and they’ve got it under control. It shouldn’t make you nauseous (it was probably unbearable in 3D, though), and it’s not used constantly like in “Gamer”. They and Trost also manage to throw in some interesting and cool shot compositions and camera angles. These guys aren’t hacks and I honestly believe these guys will make a great action movie one day (The “Crank” films are pretty damn good for now, though). They just need to find the right balance between talent, ambition, creativity, and application. But make no mistake, these guys aren’t hacks like a Uwe Boll or Michael Bay. They have a genuine vision and talent, though having this be a 3D film and starting it in Eastern Europe certainly had me worried to begin with. The cheesy opening narration and accompanying comic book-style animation put the film immediately back on the right track.

 

The film is probably more “Underworld” or at least “Drive Angry” than “Ghost Rider”, but with better FX than the first film and a cool music score by David Sardy I still found it really hard to dislike this. I know I should’ve hated this film with every fibre of my being, but truly and honestly, the only things that put this behind its predecessor are the average plot devised by writers Scott M. Gimple (a writer-producer on “The Walking Dead”), Seth Hoffman (who has worked on TV’s “House”), and David S. Goyer (“Dark City”, “Blade”, “The Dark Knight”), and the crap Eastern European setting (and accompanying supporting cast). The latter gives the film a cheap feel that is completely unnecessary. That said, Ciaran Hinds is a huge step-up from Peter Fonda as the villain. If they ever do a remake of “Phantasm” (have they already?) and they can’t get Martin Landau, Ciaran Hinds would make a great Tall Man, I think.

 

Even Nic Cage finds an appropriate outlet for his bug-eyed, teeth-gnashing nonsense. It fits the film and the filmmakers’ vision, and he’s certainly well-cast as a pill-popping, hog-riding dude with a flaming skull for a head. I bet he enjoyed the hell out of making this film and working with two guys nearly as crazy as he is (though the money he received for it was likely a bigger incentive). And if you think this is one of the worst pieces of crap Cage has ever churned out, you clearly need to go watch “Deadfall”, “Vampire’s Kiss”, “Raising Arizona” (yeah, I said it), or “Face/Off” (ditto). This is silly, not bad. Johnny Whitworth is amusing in what is essentially the Wes Bentley part from the first film. Bentley took the whole thing a bit too seriously (somewhat of a trend with Mr. Bentley, who does have talent).

 

There’s nothing serious about this film, one need only to look at the ‘pee flamethrower’ bit for proof. The filmmakers are a bit douchy (just listen to their commentary for “Crank: High Voltage”. One of them even burps!), but kinda likeable at the same time. They know this is a dopey film. That’s why they cast Christopher Lambert as a heavily tattooed monk, which on its own should tell you whether or not you’ll want to see this trippy, silly, but in my useless opinion, fun film.

 

Is it a good film? Hell no. The cheap locales are a drawback and I can’t say I was hooked into the plot much, either. But I sure as hell can’t say I didn’t enjoy some of it. I hate myself right now. I truly do.

 

Rating: C+

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Review: Kung Fu Hustle


Set in early 1940s China, Stephen Chow plays a thief who along with his fat buddy wants to join the notorious and feared Axe Gang, who rule most of the country. Only the poorest areas appear to be free of the Axe Gang (what would be the point in raiding people who have nothing?), so Chow, being the opportunistic twit that he is, decides to impersonate an Axe Gang member to extort the locals of Pig Sty Alley for money (What money, you dumbarse?). Unfortunately, the locals are better at martial arts than Chow, and basically kick his arse. In fact, a couple of legit kung fu masters are hiding in Pig Sty Alley, namely Landlord (Yuen Wah) and Landlady (Yuen Qiu, who was once a Bond girl in “The Man With the Golden Gun”!). Things get...erm, awkward when the real Axe Gang turn up, and they also hire some assassins posing as musicians (in a really cool sequence) to dispense with the two formidable kung fu masters. Leung Siu-lung (who reminded me of the great Bolo Yeung from “Bloodsport” for some reason) turns up as The Beast, a middle-aged, portly, deranged man freshly out of the insane asylum who is hired by the Axe Gang as the kind of super-indestructible arse-kicker you might find in a computer game (i.e. That last ‘boss fight’ that keeps you frustrated for ages).

 

If it weren’t for some confusing storytelling and an unsympathetic main character, this 2004 martial arts film from director/star/co-writer Stephen Chow (director-star of the HK box-office smash “Shaolin Soccer”) would be an absolute winner. As is, it’s really flashy, dynamic, and sometimes really funny, if broad and silly as hell. The film probably sits as a cult item (despite being another box-office smash in its homeland), but consider me one of the cult. I had fun with...whatever the hell this is.

 

It grabbed me from the impressive opening, set in 1940s China and it plays like a mixture of “Big Trouble in Little China”, “Dick Tracy”, Quentin Tarantino, and “West Side Story”. The humour is often fun too, like when Chow continually challenges tiny-looking people who turn out to be taller and/or ripped. Unlike the romanticised epic wuxia flicks released around the same time, this is one goofy-arse movie that is more “Monkey Magic” than “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”. It’s certainly the strangest film to feature a “Shining” parody. There’s also some amazing visuals like when a group of heavies walk with dark clouds above, casting a shadow. This is nonsense, but it’s extremely well-staged nonsense and never dull.

 

I just found it hard to watch a film where the main character was not only an insensitive prick, but the way it plays out, I wasn’t entirely sure for the most part of the film what his true allegiances were. In fact, Landlady and Landlord were easily the most sympathetic characters in the film, and our supposed hero spends most of the time on the opposite side to them (or at least the townsfolk that Landlady and Landlord are attempting to hide amongst). Jack Burton may have been more of a roguish sidekick than hero in “Big Trouble in Little China”, but it’s not like he ever wanted to join forces with Lo Pan, is it? I also think the half-hearted (and pretty much abandoned eventually) romantic subplot involving Chow and a girl from his childhood ought to have been removed entirely.

 

I can see why people might not get this film, especially as it’s a tad hard to follow, but it looks awesome and the action is great. That’s probably no surprise given the choreography is by Yuen Wo-ping (“The Matrix”), with an assist by the awesome Sammo Hung (Yuen Wo-ping in particular apparently directed the scene with the two musicians/assassins which is really cool). Excellent music score by Raymond Wong is a definite highlight.

 

You owe it to yourself to see this film at least once, whatever you may end up thinking of it. Being a fan of slapstick and Road Runner cartoons helps, I would suggest. The screenplay is by Chow, Tsang Kan Chong, and Chan Man Keung, who probably should’ve let an outsider read their material to see if it made sense to them.

 

Rating: B-

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review: A Stranger Among Us


Melanie Griffith plays a tough cop (!) who moves into the Hasidic Jewish community (!) to solve a murder and jewel heist (!!). In the meantime she starts to have romantic feelings for a pensive young Jewish scholar (Eric Thal), hoping to become the next Rebbe (or head Rabbi). Lee Richardson plays the current Rebbe, who isn’t happy with Griffith’s suggestion that one of his own might be in on the crime, if not the actual perpetrator. Jamey Sheridan plays Griffith’s injured partner on the force and occasional fuck buddy, John Pankow is a Jewish cop who nonetheless isn’t a fan of the Hasidic sect, James Gandolfini plays one of a pair of mobsters, and Mia Sara plays a meek Jewish girl who helps Griffith adjust to her new surroundings.

 

Sidney Lumet might just be the most schizophrenic filmmaker of all-time. When on target, some of the greatest films ever made were the result; “12 Angry Men”, “The Hill”, “Dog Day Afternoon”, “Network”, and “Serpico”. Hell, even “The Offence” and “The Deadly Affair” are extremely underrated. But this is the same guy capable of churning out crap like “Power” and “Equus”, as well as disappointments like “Prince of the City”, “Q & A”, and “Family Business”. This 1992 flop cemented itself in the crap category from the moment I read the plot synopsis. “Witness” it ain’t (though Lumet barely conceals the fact that he’s trying for a female version of “Witness” with quaint Jews instead of quaint Amish people), and in fact it might have one of the worst plots of all-time in addition to one of the worst casting decisions of all-time at its centre. Melanie Griffith, daughter of a mediocre actress in her own right (Tippi Hedren), is quite frankly ludicrous and woefully unconvincing here. I have no idea how a director with a seemingly keen eye for casting previously could cock it up so badly this time. She doesn’t even bother to deglamorise for the hard-boiled role, and her helium-voice is all wrong. The woman just hasn’t got a strong enough presence or voice to sell the part. Instead, she alternates between being shrill and mousy. When she holds or fires a gun in the air, she comes off less like Gena Rowlands in “Gloria” or Angie Dickinson on “Police Woman”, and more like Estelle Getty in “Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot” or Marion Ramsey in the “Police Academy” films.

 

And then the ridiculous Hassidic wigs turn up. Is this a comedy? The portrayal of Hasidic Jews here certainly seems to suggest it, as does the borderline racist, jaunty music delivered by composer Jerry Bock which truly has to be heard to be believed. It’s insultingly stereotypical and pathetic. I kept waiting for Mel Brooks or ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic to turn up. No surprises to learn that Bock was one of the men behind “Fiddler on the Roof”, then. Oy! Meanwhile, even for 1992, Griffith’s character is insanely naive and frankly a bit rude towards the Hasidic community here, and only Eric Thal is able to not come across as insulting or absurd amongst the Hasidic characters. Given the ludicrous quasi-romance between he and Griffith, he comes off rather OK, if a tad dull. Mia Sara, meanwhile is badly wasted in a nothing role. John Pankow is probably the next best behind Thal, and at least shows a bit of personality.

 

In addition to being racially stereotyped and stupid, this is just a boring film, I can’t imagine what appeal Lumet saw in the screenplay by Robert J. Avrech (Brian De Palma’s abysmal “Body Double”). The dialogue in particular is at times truly pathetic, and this is really bad TV movie material, undeserving of higher stature. And did we need yet another movie where a religious pacifist is forced to take up violent actions? That shit wasn’t new when Ernest Borgnine played an Amish farmer turned reluctant vigilante in the 1955 film “Violent Saturday”. The man behind “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Serpico” was having one of his ‘off’ days here, I’m afraid, and not even the unintentional comic value of Melanie Griffith trying to act tough can make this dull film enjoyable.

 

Rating: D+